A GIN distiller is branching out into the production of hand sanitiser to give away to charities and care homes amid shortages caused by coronavirus.

Darlington distiller Jay Byers, who makes Steel River Gin, is starting the alternative endeavour to try and meet the extra demand for hand sanitiser sparked by the pandemic and to keep his workers employed as bar sales dry up.

Mr Byers, who is originally from Middlesbrough and has been running the distillery since 2018, said: “We’re an established distillery anyway and we’re aware there is a shortage. The main ingredient in hand sanitiser is alcohol so it’s the same base product.

“It’s a different type of process. Gin is made of the base high strength alcohol. The alcohol used in hand sanitiser is the same, but it’s denatured which means you can’t drink it.

“You need a license to be able to buy this sort of alcohol, which we have because we do use it already.”

He added: “We were a bit concerned that charities and shelters and care homes that need it are running low because people are going crazy.”

The alcohol is mixed with glycerine and oils to prevent it from drying out skin.

The distillery, which employs three people, as well as drivers, currently sells mini pouches of gin, popular with people going to events and festivals, and will be using the packaging to distribute the hand sanitiser in 15ml quantities.

The denatured alcohol has arrived at the distilling unit in Darlington, with another delivery of glycerine expected. It is hoped the first batches will be ready by Wednesday.

Mr Byers added: “We’re experimenting with the aroma. Our best-selling gin is Stainsby Girl, which is named after the Chris Rea song, and the aroma of that is quite popular. We’re going to call it Stainsby Gel and match the aroma with the gin.”

The distillery will be giving the sanitiser to charities and care homes which are struggling to get hold of the product and will also be giving away free pouches to anyone who buys a bottle of gin.

Mr Byers said: “Bar sales have dried up but we know our customers will still want a drink if they’re staying in. We’re doing ok with our private sales to customers.

“There are only a few people who have licences to be able to do this. We want to give a bit back to the community and it keeps people working in the unit as well."